Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel has hired the attorney who botched an investigation into the Fiesta Bowl a decade ago to oversee a probe of County Assessor Paul Petersen.
Adel’s office announced that former Attorney General Grant Woods will oversee the work of two private law firms hired to investigate whether Petersen neglected his duties.
Petersen stands accused in three states of running an illegal adoption scheme involving Marshallese women, and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors suspended him Oct. 28 for 120 days for neglecting his duties. He was in federal custody in Arkansas at the time, but he is free on bail.
Woods, in 2009, conducted a week-long investigation into a campaign-finance scandal involving Fiesta Bowl employees and found no credible evidence of wrongdoing. But when state and federal investigators got involved, several employees of the college-football organization ended up pleading guilty to various misdemeanors and felonies, including former Fiesta Bowl CEO John Junker, who spent eight months in prison.
Woods has said in a subsequent interview in 2017 with Tempe-based journalist Nancy Puffer that the Fiesta Bowl manipulated him.
“At the end of the day I had lots of excuses, but I was hired to see if there was a problem, and I didn’t see it,” Woods said.
Petersen’s criminal defense attorney, Kurt Altman, questioned whether it is necessary to have Woods oversee the neglect-of-duties investigation because one of the firms tasked to investigate the county assessor, Stein Mitchell Carey Chapman, is a seasoned and respected outfit that specializes in criminal defense.
Woods will be providing regular updates to Adel.
“Sounds like a good gig if you can get it,” Altman said.
Additionally, Cosmich Simmons & Brown, a litigation firm, will look into all of Petersen’s documents found on his county computer in an internal audit. The audit found that only five percent of those documents pertained to official county business.
Kory Langhofer, Petersen’s attorney who is defending him in the suspension matter, said Woods has already judged Petersen.
Langhofer provided Arizona Capitol Times a tweet from Oct. 9 in which Woods congratulated Attorney General Mark Brnovich for indicting Petersen and “liked” a tweet stating Petersen should learn to enjoy prison.
“Great Work General,” Woods tweeted.
Great work General. https://t.co/oYgmRaECu4
— Grant Woods (@GrantWoods) October 10, 2019
Langhofer said Woods’ social media activity reveals a bias against Petersen and makes him the least qualified investigator.
He said the verdict is already in on Petersen’s suspension.
“The Board of Supervisors’ premade conclusions—which they’ve already announced and voted to approve—will be dressed up and reprinted on Grant Woods’s letterhead,” Langhofer said.
The Board of Supervisors voted last week to have a suspension appeal hearing on December 11.
Woods laughed at hearing Langhofer’s comments and denied having any bias against Petersen. He also denied that the Board of Supervisors have already predetermined the investigation outcome as Langhofer suggests.
“The Board suspended him and they need to review the suspension and what steps to take going forward. They need to know more about the Assessor’s Office and the job he’s done. It’s completely separate [from the criminal charges],” Woods said.
Jennifer Liewer, an Adel spokeswoman, said Woods’ overall reputation and experience is why Adel considered him and why she thinks he is qualified.
“[Woods] is a well-respected member of the community,” Jennifer Liewer, a county spokeswoman, said. “He has conducted hundreds of investigations as attorney general and overseen many … we believe the team we compiled will do a thorough job and will be able to provide Adel and the Board of Supervisors with a thorough investigation.”
Both Adel and Woods also have a history with Sen. John McCain. Adel interned for McCain while in college and Woods was McCain’s Chief of Staff when he was a congressman. Liewer said that history was not considered when choosing the former AG to oversee the investigation.
Woods said he was approached last week to begin overseeing the investigation, but still has not seen a contract yet for how much he will be paid for the work, which is expected to take less than one month.
He said the short timeframe will be challenging, but that the majority of the work will be conducted by Lee Stein of Stein Mitchell Carey Chapman.
Woods was vague on whether there is enough time before the Dec. 11 hearing to conduct a thorough investigation.
“It depends on your definition of thorough,” he said. “We’re going to do what we’re going to do and give [the Board of Supervisors] what we have and that’s up to them.”
Prosecutors say Petersen paid the Marshallese women up to $10,000 to come to the United States, where they were crammed into houses to wait to give birth and provide their babies for adoption.
Petersen faces charges in Arizona, Utah and Arkansas that include human smuggling, sale of a child, fraud, forgery and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Petersen has now pleaded not guilty in courts in Arkansas, Arizona and Utah. And next month, he is scheduled for his next court dates in Arkansas on Dec. 5 and Arizona Dec. 19.
Editor’s note: This story has been revised to include direct quotes and paraphrased statements from Grant Woods.